Validation

I was in London last weekend with my parents, Gregg and Jenson to celebrate my birthday. It was a lovely time and also a time that has left me thinking about some body stuff.

My mum said to me at one point ‘you look slim‘ (or something like that). She meant it as a lovely compliment but then corrected herself and said ‘oh, I’m not supposed to say that, am I?‘.

This came from an article she had shared with me earlier in the year (which I can’t find now), but which is similar to this article in psychology today.

The main headlines are that if you don’t want your child to have body issues:

  • Don’t talk about your body in a negative way. Instead of saying ‘I hate my stomach‘, say ‘It’s incredible that my tummy kept you safe inside me for 9 months!
  • Model eating a variety of foods in moderation
  • Don’t diet, but talk about eating healthily and exercising for the pleasure of feeling good and taking care of yourself
  • Don’t comment on what other people look like, praising those who are thin and criticising others who are larger. Make body size a non-issue by not even mentioning it.

But I understand my mum making that comment because, in saying it, she was noticing me, connecting with me, wanting to say ‘I see you and I think you are lovely’. (I think she was, anyway!).

And it’s what I do to people as well. When someone has lost weight, I give praise. And when someone mentions how dissatisfied they are with their body, I try to make them feel better by saying how gorgeous they are or how I haven’t even noticed that they’ve put on weight.

It’s how we are conditioned in society – to say ‘you look well’ (which most always means something about body size) or to comment if someone has lost weight.

It’s normal validation.

But I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

And so I’ve been thinking about what else can be said to validate someone instead of commenting on weight/body size.

Here are some of the things I’d like to hear myself:

  • I love you
  • I’m so proud to call you my friend/daughter/son/part of my family
  • I think you’re a wonderful person
  • It looks like you’re really taking care of yourself and I think that’s great.
  • You’re glowing for someone surviving on such little sleep!
  • I really admire X in you
  • I love your top/skirt/shoes
  • I think you’re gorgeous, inside and out!
  • I’d love to know how you’re really doing

It was really hard to think about these phrases and I’m still not 100% convinced by all of them, because they all feel a bit more intense.

A comment like ‘you look great’ feels safe. Whereas saying how proud you are of someone feels more vulnerable. And asking how someone truly is, listening fully to their answer takes more effort and engagement.

So I don’t have any answers really. And I suppose this is normal because observations about weight are conditioned in most of us.

All I know is that I’m determined for Jenson to not grow up with any weight phobias and so I’m going to see how it feels to not mention my body negatively or to mention someone’s size as a validation over the next month or so.

This means:

  • Praising my body, especially the bits I find imperfect
  • Not engaging with conversations about how someone looks
  • Avoiding the ‘you look well’ ‘have you lost weight’ comments

Let’s see how it goes!

Weight

I’m getting so angry with this fixation we have as a society on external appearance, specifically people’s weight. This anger was triggered as I went into my work kitchen earlier this week and saw the headline of a trashy magazine blaring out “I’m size 18 but I’ll loose the weight for my son”.

It was a declaration of a celebrity who has just had a baby. Just entered motherhood.  And her seemingly key priority was getting back to tip-top shape physically.

Ok, I know. This lady probably never uttered those words – most of the stuff in these sorts of magazines is made up and sensationalised to pull in people and make a sale – but it makes me livid that others may read these words (especially young women) and have the idea reinforced that losing weight and being skinny is the epitaph of success.

It’s a load of bullshit.

When we’re lying on our death beds we won’t think ‘if only I had been thinner‘ or ‘if only I had lost those last 2 pounds’.

We’re more likely to think ‘if only I had laughed more, worked less, told my family how much I loved them more frequently, traveled the world, taken myself less seriously, been braver, had more fun, put less importance on how I looked’.

Our weight doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t measure your courage, your humour, the strength of your heart, the uniqueness of your thoughts or anything else that makes you, you.

I’m not saying that being healthy isn’t important – doing what we can to take care of ourselves physically is something I believe should be a priority. Eating a balance of foods, keeping active, sleeping as much as we need, drinking enough water. These things are all good for us.

And of course, I’m not saying to stay as you are if you’re stuck in unhealthy cycles of eating to comfort yourself or to push down your emotions. I know the hell that this is – stuck in a spiral of shame and despair.

If you’re suffering with comfort or binge eating, I’d encourage you to get some support to get a hold of it, dear friend. Perhaps even get in touch with me – I work with people specifically on stopping the comfort/binge eating.

So while I am not advocating for unhealthy lifestyles or staying in a cycle of unhealthy relationships with food, I feel deeply against this fixation we have with being young, lithe, thin.

I want to shout to the world “it doesn’t matter! We’ve got it round the wrong way! It’s the inside that truly counts!!!’

But really as I think about this more, I know deep down that my reaction – the anger – is also a frustration at myself for still basing my appearance as a measure of my worth when I know at an intellectual level that I’m so much more than my physique.

I find myself sometimes standing side-on to see how flat my stomach is. It’s a habit I’ve not yet been able to kick (although I’m able to check myself more and I do it less frequently).

I also struggle with how I look at myself physically when I’m tired or upset because my neural pathways still interpret these feelings as being linked to my weight. I catch myself judging my appearance more critically than I usually would when I’m in these states of fatigue or upset. And it’s only when I ask myself what’s really going on that I realise it’s nothing to do with how I look – it’s about the feelings that I am trying to hide away or the lack of care I’ve given myself when I’m tired or sad.

I’ve not yet been able to kick these two habits and I so sorely want to do so. I want to live free from any obsession with my physical appearance, but it’s so hard to shake it off when I’ve got constant reminders around me – in magazines, TV shows, conversations, adverts – that ‘thin is better’.

So I suppose this blog post is as much for me as it is for you, dear friend. It’s a cry to myself to stand free from the unhelpful, dysfunctional thoughts that my importance, acceptability and belonging has anything to do with me being thin.

Writing this post has made me realise that I need to have a conversation with the person who is putting those magazines in the kitchen. I need to ask her to stop bringing them in, because they’re really unhelpful and are triggering to me and my continued recovery from the eating disorders of my past. I commit to you, friend, that I’m going to do this when I next get the chance to.

So yet again, I’m left astounded that what was really going on was not my anger at the world (although I do feel enraged by these magazines and the perfection expected from our bodies). Instead it’s a frustration at how I’ve not yet shaken off the remnants of the thoughts and behaviours that no longer serve me.

So I’m going to be mindful in watching out for this behaviour – on order to change the side-on glances and critical eyes on my body when I’m tired/upset. But I’m not going to be unkind to myself or frustrated that I haven’t yet reached the nirvana of not caring about appearances.

I know that this will all come in time. I’m on the right path and that, for now, is enough.

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